Prose & Conversation: "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris
The Girl Next Door. Tampa. Something Wicked This Way Comes.
These are just a few of the dark, heady texts Richard Thomas and I have discussed here on our semi-monthly column, Prose & Cons.
And after a particularly heavy discussion of Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, we needed a break. We needed some fun. And so we decided to take on one of satire's hottest essayists, and we dug into the David Sedaris classic, Me Talk Pretty One Day. Read on to see what happens when we get a little silly and talk fatty suits, poop, and an interesting fella named Rooster.
Richard: So, something lighter this time, right Leah? It's a collection of essays by David Sedaris, and I have to say, I needed this book right now. He's so funny, but also dysfunctional, and dark at times. I saw lots of my family in here. You've read him before. What did you think?
Leah: David Sedaris is kind of my hero. He's so funny, and so honest. I saw him read once and shook his hand and I admire him so much. It was fun to immerse myself in his world for a while.
Richard: I think Me Talk Pretty One Day is his third collection. I've read essentially all of his books.
Leah: I have a funny story about meeting him. Want to hear it?
Richard: Yes, please. I love his sister, Amy, too.
Leah: So, he was reading here in Charleston, and my husband and I love him so we got tickets. About 45 minutes before the show, he suddenly appeared in the lobby and sat down at a table to sign books. Shockingly enough, we had one.
We were the first to see him, so we were the first in line. Our daughter was about two at the time. She was home with my mom. Since we were the first, he was willing to chat a little, take his time.
Leah: We shook his hand, introduced ourselves, and asked him to sign our book to our little 2 year old daughter, Zoe. He laughed. "I hope you're not reading her this!"
Richard: Ha, so true.
Leah: And then, he signed the book: To Zoe. You're such a BABY! David.
I mean, who does that?
So I'm a super-fan for life.
Richard: I'm lol right now.
Richard: Or is it lolling?
That's a classic.
Leah: It's something. You're laughing. My work here is done.
Richard: I wanted to ask what about his humor you find funny, what "does it" for you, and then maybe talk about an essay or two that we particularly loved. Cool?
Leah: Sounds great!
Richard: So, do tell...WHY did you laugh? And when?
Leah: So...for me, it's all about the wordplay. That's what kills me with him, and makes me laugh so hard.
Richard: He's very clever.
Leah: Yes. The way he captures dialogue, especially when he's learning French, and in the part about his brother, Rooster...it absolutely kills me.
How's about you?
Richard: I love the dysfunctional family stuff, for sure, I could so relate. And then, I love that he's not afraid to be vulgar at times. And then, that mix of humanity and emotion—that's what really brings it home for me.
Leah: For sure. I love the stories about his family.
Richard: For our readers, David Sedaris is gay, and much of his focus in this collection is about his youth, how his parents really had no idea what was going on with him in general, and then his time in Paris with his boyfriend. It's fish out of water, but then he's also an everyman, too.
Leah: Yes, and he's got a bazillion sisters, including Amy (who's FABULOUS), and his dad sounds like a character. They're Yankees living in the South during his childhood. I can DEFINITELY relate to that.
I still feel like a fish out of water sometimes, and I've been down here a dozen years.
Richard: I was definitely going to talk about the Rooster. That might be my favorite in this book.
Did you have a quote you wanted to post? HA, we might have the same section.
Leah: I have a good wordplay example, if you like. It's from "Jesus Shaves." They're in a French class, trying to explain Easter to a Moroccan student. They can't speak French very well yet, and he captures the lack of vocabulary perfectly.
The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. 'It is,' said one, 'a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and...oh, shit."
She faltered and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
'He calls his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two...morsels of...lumber.'
Leah: They have no word for cross, no ability to explain crucifixion. So yes. Morsels of...lumber.
I seriously almost died laughing (I am well-known for hyperbole).
Richard: Too funny.
Leah: Your turn. This could be our entire column. Making each other laugh.
Richard: I could really quote all of "You Can't Kill the Rooster." Here's one that I seriously did a spit-take on, laughing my ass off.
Richard: He's talking about this brother, Paul, known as the Rooster.
This is the grown man who now phones his father to say, 'Motherfucker, I ain't seen pussy in so long, I'd throw a stone at it.'
It's so vulgar and yet, so perfectly accurate, and so weird.
Leah: Ha!! So my father has never said a curse in his life. He'd DIE if I said any of those words around him. Simply die.
Leah: And Sedaris's dad sounds very similar to mine in that respect. So I'd love to see his face when the Rooster talks like that!!
I feel like we needed photographic evidence.
Richard: Then this line about his mother. Also from "The Rooster"
My mother was, for the most part, delighted with my brother and regarded him with a bemused curiosity of a brood hen discovering she had hatched a completely different species.
That really goes a long way towards explaining the family dynamic, I think.
Leah: Yeah, they're all SO different. No one understands anyone else. And yet...they appreciate each other. It's sort of beautiful.
I feel like that reflects my family experience, too. Maybe not to that extent, but it's there.
I love that.
Later, another story I loved, was "The Nutcracker.com" about how he hates computers, until he and Amy discover porn and she shows him this woman stomping on a man's testicles. They watch it in horror, and then she turns to him and says, "Again?" That just kills me. So depraved and funny and honest.
What's really funny is he'll have this lovely story about putting animals to sleep ("The Youth in Asia" made me CRY), and then he has a story like "Big Boy."
I have the first paragraph of that one ready to paste in here. Let me know when you're ready to deal with it.
Richard: I think that's part of his brilliance, the build up to this moment where the reveal, the epiphany is just so perfect, so funny, but with heart, too. It's not just dick jokes.
Yeah, go for it!
Leah: And here I go with the dick-ish joke. Because this essay? It's all about the poop. Here 'tis.
It was Easter Sunday in Chicago, and my sister Amy and I were attending an afternoon dinner at the home of our friend John. The weather was nice, and he’d set up a table in the backyard so that we might sit in the sun. Everyone had taken their places, when I excused myself to visit the bathroom, and there, in the toilet, was the absolute biggest turd I have ever seen in my life—no toilet paper or anything, just this long and coiled specimen, as thick as a burrito.
And that's it. An entire 5-ish page story, devoted to the giant piece of poop that's not his.
Richard: God knows we've all been in that situation. What's so funny, is that I've TOTALLY THOUGHT OF PICKING IT UP WITH MY HANDS. WTF!?
Leah: Right? Ew. 'scuse me. Bile in my throat. Lemme swallow that back.
Richard: What a horrible moment. Hahahahahahahaha. Lord.
Leah: But that's what Sedaris can do. He can make you laugh. Cry. Scream. He's just so freaking honest and unafraid.
Richard: I know. But we've all had a toilet threaten to overflow or walked into a mess like that. You don't want to get blamed. I love that he wanted to fling it out the window, but KNEW his friends would see it, and it would be WORSE. LOL.
So true, unafraid.
Leah: Mmmm....poop stories.
Richard: You have to read MEATY by Samantha Irby. The same thing. Hard to pull off.
She has a blog, BITCHES GOTTA EAT. Love her.
Leah: I'll grab it on my Kindle tonight if I remember.
Richard: And man, I have such a crush on Amy Sedaris. That's all kind of freaky wrong, she's kind of like that performance artist, the one that poses, looking deformed?
Leah: Yep. She is. A friend of mine has been in a movie with her, and he says she's super cool.
There's a story in here devoted to her. I'm trying to find it.
"A Shiner Like a Diamond." That's it.
He talks about how his father pays too much attention to how his sisters look, and then Amy plays a trick on him. She has a "fatty suit" for the lower half of her body, and commits to wearing it pretty much for the duration of a multi-day visit.
Richard: Cindy Sherman, that's her name. Had to look her up.
Leah: Just to prove a point. That blew me away. I want to be friends with both of them now.
Richard: Yeah, love that. She did Strangers with Candy.
Leah: Strangers with Candy. Yes. My high school friend Carlo was in that. He said it was GREAT to be there with her.
And it makes me LAUGH and laugh and laugh. She's awesome. We're besties. Amy just doesn't know it yet.
*cue creepy stalker music*
Richard: I love her on Letterman, always gold.
Any other essays we should talk about?
Leah: ALL THE ESSAYS! They're all so good!
Richard: Right? I was just thinking this may not even be his BEST collection. BARREL FEVER
Leah: Yes! I want to read them all now. It's such an escape, to dive into his world for a while. But I do have one more essay!
Oh! The one where he becomes an artist! I love that. I think I heard him read it live...or on NPR. I was familiar with it before I read it.
So he's a college kid in the 60s, and he decides to become an artist, all while hopped up on speed.
Richard: Definitely pick up those two, and HOLIDAYS ON ICE. His last two haven't been mind-blowing.
Ah, yes, the speed and performance art. That was really good.
"Twelve Moments in the Life of an Artist." Classic.
Leah: He gets into a museum art exhibit by collecting his trash for several months and documenting each piece.
I mean...who DOES that? It's hilarious. He's sort of Forrest Gumped his way through life, but look where it all took him. Super-impressive.
Richard: Ha, so true.
Leah: I loved reading this, to be honest. It's been a rough few weeks on a personal level (all trite, stupid stuff, but there it is...) so Sedaris was like The Great Escape for me.
How about you?
Richard: Totally agree. Nice to read something funny for a change.
Definitely needed it.
Leah: And there were no dead bunnies. Not like Jesus' Son.
Leah: Yaaaay for no dead bunnies!
Richard: So, in summation...
...I think this is a fantastic collection of essays. You'll laugh, you'll see yourself in here, your family, and you'll be touched by his vulnerability and insights. 5/5 for me.
Leah: I'm right there with you. Two thumbs up. Give this to someone you love for a holiday sometime soon, too. And if Sedaris comes to your town, GO SEE HIM. You won't regret it.
This has been fun. A nice break from our headier discussions. Thanks, Richard!!!
Richard: Definitely a nice change of pace. So what next? A classic, something NEW?
Leah: Oooh. I have Revival. Want to plan to do that? Another Stephen King treat?
Richard: Let's run it past management! Might be fun to do a NEW King together. So keep your eyes on this spot, people, that one might be up next!
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